One of The first things I bought this year was a stunning hardback cover of Althorp: The story of an English House by Charles Spencer.
What a great addition to my bookcase and I have actually put it on my desk. This is an absolute treasure for my book collection.
It is just OH SO GORGEOUS 😍😍😍
Charles Spencer 9th Earl inherited the estate as his grandfather’s eightieth birthday was in 1972 and the local paper in Northamptonshire took a photograph of him, Charles and his father.
Charles Spencer was based in Sandringham and Althorp was known as very Edwardian. It was a 2 hour drive from from Park House and Charles articulates that it is the most English of settings.
“His memory of those days included his grandmothers sitting room with beautiful, deep blue, hand painted frescoes and formal furniture that reflected her cool and natural aristocracy; a slice of sophistication in an otherwise stolidly traditional English stately home.”
His grandfather dominated the rest of Althorp.
And pores over the family records in the Muniment Room. Medieval household accounts, letters from leading Jacobean political figures and reminiscences of Victorian house parties all stored together.
The Muniment room is now gone in which it’s contents with the British Library much of it waiting to be catalogued.
One interesting fact is his father had to sell the great Holbein of Henry VIII to finance his education. He sold it for 10K pounds.
During his childhood his sisters and him rarely stayed the night at Althorp when his grandfather was there. If they did it was in the night nursery.
This is the Wooten Hall, painted by the early eighteenth century artist John Wooten.
Wooton painted all these works in 1733, in his studio in Marylebone, London, before they were transported to their permanent home at Althorp.
He was known as the best painter of horses in England.
This is the picture gallery. Chairs by the fireplace, bookcases against the wall, side tables positioned near the wall to give it a finish.
“In 1508 Althorp was bought by John Spencer for only 800 pounds and the house that you see today had its heart constructed as the family’s Northhamptonshire base.”
It had actually been catalogued in the Doomsday Book as “Olletorpe” which meant Ollas Thorpe. Ola was a Saxon Lord. And interestingly “Thorp” is a Scandinavian name. His grandfather called it “Awl Trupp”.
When Charles inherited the estate in 1992, the BBC Pronunciation Department sent him a letter saying that they would like to see it rever to the correct pronunciation. And gave him strict guidelines on how it should be pronounced.
It was called Antwerp by an American presenter and he believed Diana would have enjoyed that…..
CHARLES II BY MARY BEALE
The portrait of another monarch was also in the Picture Gallery – Lady Jane Grey the nine days queen painted by Lucas de Heere.
It is still at Althorpe.but in a different room. And shows
Lady Jane Grey at the age of 16 a year before she was executed sitting in a room at Broadgate, her family’s home In Leicestershire. Reading a religious text pretty in a red velvet dress. She showed her devotion to Protestantism whilst the Catholics were the ones involved in her execution.
This is a Tudor lady where they would like to “use the length of the gallery for exercise.”
They re call the Picture Gallery as being ‘a fine room for walking about in” – they always had breakfast there.
In 1695 the neighbouring nobility and gentry gathered to dine there in which they had come to pay their respects to William III, as he in turn had come to secure the support of Robert Spencer, Second Earl of Sunderland and master of Althorp.
In the History of England they quote:
“It seems strange that William should, in the course of what was really a canvassing tour honoured with such a mark of favour a man so generally distrusted and hated as Sunderland. but the people were determined to be pleased All Northamptonshire crowded to kiss that royal hand in that fine taller which had been embellished by the pencil of Vandyck and made classic by the muse f Waller, and the Earl tried to conciliate his neighbours by feasting them at eight tables all blazing with plate.”
299 years later, Charles Spencer give a dinner party in that same room for his 30th birthday.
In the Picture Gallery, between the Windsor Beauties and War and Peace is a tiny door cut neatly into the oak panelling. Harley ever used but leads to a staircase that joined the Pink Suite, a guest bedroom to the rest of the house. His great aunt who was Margaret Douglas-Home was the youngest of six children who lived at Althorn from 1910 onwards.
What I found out very interesting is this story:
The day Charles had guests over he was going through some leather bound volumes that were in relation to the house. One of them were a book of press cuttings from the mid nineteenth century kept by his great great grandfather Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer.
this is what the article said:
“One morning, the Dean came down to breakfast with the family and rather frostily complained to the then earl that in future he would prefer it if he was left undisturbed after retiring for the night. My ancestor asked the dean to expand. It transpired that the Dean had been awoken by a figure dressed as a groom entering his room, holding candles, who had gone round the bed, checking all the candles, who had gone round the bed, checking all the candles were properly snuffed out.”
The exact description of the ‘groom was agreed upon that it was the ghost of the previous earls favourite servant – whose job was to go round all the rooms at night, after everyone had retired, to check that no flame was still burning.
After Charles read it, he didn’t think anything of it, until one Sunday evening, he was helping his guests down with the luggage of the exact same room, The Oak Bedroom, when a lady said to him “I swear that someone came in here last night.” Now Charles didn’t think anything of it because he just thought it was someone going to bed late, or a guest having trouble looking for their room.
The lady continued to say “And the strange thing is he was holding a candelabrum and wearing an old uniform – a cloak.”
He said back to her well I have had a broad range of guests here at Althorn but no one dressing up like that!
So Charles decided to run up to the housekeeper who was cataloguing articles for a new museum she had created showing off some of the more historic items that had been put in storage rooms. He was about to take down a grooms cloak when instead he actually grabbed a footman uniform, and he thought ‘if she is lying, this will catch her out.’ He raced back down stairs and shows the clothing to the guest, Almost…. she said, but it was longer – more like this…. and she described in DETAIL the clothing of ‘an early nineteenth century Spencer groom.’
With the Oak Bedroom it was where John Spencer the first earl married his sweetheart in secret. This is another story that caught my eye, as
John Spencer’s father was called John, who was the favourite grandson of the Duchess of Marlborough, she had a fortune so large that she actually lent money to the Bank of England.
This financial power, the quick tempered matriarch was determined was not to go to her grandson the third duke of Marlborough but to his younger brother John. who died young through “over-abundance”.
Horace Walpole was slightly more sharp witted in pin pointing the main causes of his early demise, when writing to Sir Horace Mann in 1746; Jack Spencer, old Marlborough’s grandson and heir is dead, at the age of 37 and in possession of 30K pounds a year merely because he would not be abridged of thee invaluable blessings of an English subject.
The 12 year old John was left beneficiary to the GREATEST inheritance in the kingdom, spending it on diamond buckled shoes and building Spencer House.
So the only pressure on a young man with this amount of wealth was to marry, in order to ensure the money stayed in the direct family line.
When it came close to his 21st birthday Georgiana Poyntz was to be the chose one. She wasn’t an heiress. Georgiana was SO in love with him, according to a letter she wrote to her friends, and saying he was ‘handsomer than an angel’. She stayed at Althorp for the summer and they got engaged. They were to be wed, and John and Georgiana had planned to marry at Althorn on Christmas Day with nobody else knowing. Th wedding party convened in the Oak Bedroom which was occupied by Johns mother and step father. Those present were Georgiana’s mother, brother and a Mr Holloway who conducted the service.
After the service they went back to the party that was going on in ALTHORP as though nothing had happened, in this kept hidden a secret marriage ended a famous happy one!
In 1688 a lady called Evelyn had this to say about Althorp.
“The house/palace is a noble uniform pile in form of a half H, built f brick and freestone, the hall is well, the staircase is excellent, the rooms of state, galleries, offices, and furniture such as may become a great prince. It is situated in the midst of a garden, exquisitely planted and kept and all this in a park walled in with hewn stone, planted with rows and walks of trees, canals, and fish ponds and stored with game.” Spencer, C, Althorp: The story of an English House, 1998, London, Penguin Group.
This account relate to the time of Second Earl of Sunderland Robert Spencer. This was the period where he was secretary of state to Charles II, James II and William III.
Charles believes the most magical painting to be in Althorp would have to be in the Picture Gallery which is called “War and Peace” by Gottfried Schalken.
In 1772 there was an announcement needing laborours to help repair the house. the ceiling in the library collapsed the next year and the floor was unsafe needing to put new ones in. George John got in contact with a Henry Holland who actually assisted with the construction of Battersea Bridge for the First Earl Spencer. He was a well known architect in London.
Holland started in 1785 repairing Spencer House and then was asked to design something to save Althorp/Spencer House. George Johns wife was a Lady Lavinia Bingham as shown above wasn’t exactly happy with Holland and didn’t like how much it was costing.
Althorp was transformed into a Georgian mansion and was classically beautiful.
Holland added a Library, Billiard Room and South Drawing Room. This was the beginning of the century in which the Library would be the dominant room at Althorp.
The library tells the story of the Spencer’s in the eighteenth and nineteenth century more eloquently.
Like me, there was one ancestor that was an avid collector of books.
And collecting early English Literature.
John, First Earl Spencer added to the family collection by buying the whole entire library of Doctor William George who was a headmaster at Eton College. Primarily, English.
George John transformed the Spencer library into the greatest private collection of books in England.
George had an interest in English Literature at a very early age.
As you can see in the picture the library room was filled with books full to the ceiling!
What I am most fascinated about was that in the final decade of his life, George John, ordered a copy of every single book published in England. ASTOUNDING!!!!!
Here we find, Frederick the fourth spencer inheriting Althorp who was a Naval Officer.
The Red Earl – John Fifth Earl Spencer was married to Charlotte Seymour, who was a great beauty and also called Spencers Fairy Queen.
Here we have the great dining room which was added to the side of the house, It is actually a copy of the ballroom in Buckingham Palace. and was created by MacVicar Anderson.
Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough had a family bible, which lists every member of the Spencer family. Naming their date of birth, place of christening, godparents, date and place of marriage, spouse, children and date of death.
but the library was sadly sold.
This is the Marlborough Room which was transformed int a dining room.
and this is one of the fireplaces taken from Spencer House to Altho to escape the Blitz.
Religious paintings were sold in large numbers under Raine’s management in the 1980’s.
and they had a painting which included a scene from Exodus – Moses in the bullrushes.
Holland’s Long Library, transformed during Raine’s redecorating spree in the 1980’s
and this is the South Drawing Room in the 1980’s, gilded to within an inch of its life.
The chapel, which was transformed in the 80’s into a humble junk room, was restored to its proper function. Full of religious paintings, the french grey of the walls was washed down rather than re painted, and the beautiful stained glass windows were bought from Wormleighton Manor in the nineteenth century.
This is a stained glass window in the Chapel, the armorial glass dates from 1588 and came Wormleighton Manor, the original Spencer family residence.
The Long library became Charles Spencer’s study andante had a busy lozenge carpet rolled back and natural colour restored, with the leather bound volumes showing their richly coloured spines off against a crisp, neutral backdrop, with sweeping views of the Deer Park.
Here is one of the pair of torcheres from Spencer House that now reside either side of the fireplace in the Saloon.
Hollands love of white was the authentic and practical solution. It had a candelabra, the room recaptured its majestic simplicity, the family portraits, an assortment of royal, and here is the Painters Passage. The moving of the china has freed of the area of where the china used to be, showing here that the Painters Passage is now displaying self-portraits. The most fascinating art forms.
There was a Sunderland Room and right next to it was The Marlborough Room, which here (above picture) is the drawing room.
They actually wanted to change it into a dining room.
The most notable collection of portraits was picture of Georgiana, Countess Spencer with her daughter Lady Georgiana who was the Duchess of Devonshire, was done by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who actually was a close friend of the family.
These portraits of Lady Anne, and Lady Lavinia are the very essence of eighteenth – century portraiture which complements the house in all its majestic glory.
In modern times, Princess Diana who was born into the Spencer family, was the youngest daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Althorp, but she grew up in Sandringham. After her father inherited the title “Earl Spencer”, she then became “Lady Diana Spencer”. Growing up I didn’t know who she was and honestly didn’t know who she was till the day she died. I will aways remember that she passed away in 1997 the same year as my granny, so thats been etched in my mind for a while.
The last chapter of this book primarily focuses on Princes Diana and the legacy that she left behind. I highly recommend this book for your collection and you can find it on AMAZON for $51.67 or on the World of Books Australia website for $11.49 how cheap!!!!
I hope you liked reading, as I used some of the words from the book for those that don’t want to buy it, but want to catch a glimpse for free.
It is an absolute stunning picture book, and really dives into the life of the Spencers. I want to buy The Spencer Family: A Personal History of an English Family next time!!! It is $23.86, and It is on my book list!!!!